Friday, May 2, 2014

SO, YOU THINK YOU HAVEN’T BEEN BRAINWASHED?

Some thirty or forty years ago, when I still considered myself a Bible-believing Christian---ugly self-serving words they are---I all too often heard Christian evangelical preachers rail against the ‘dangers of the cults.’ ‘Beware of the cults, the occult, and all that,’ was their rallying call. 

Actually, these preachers did me a very great service. They protested so much, and so loudly, against these so-called cults that they aroused an interest and a curiosity in me to learn more about them. I even joined a couple of them along the way---and it widened my mind considerably ... something I very much needed. Come to think of it, I even became---and still am---an ordained minister of one of them. Yes, I'm proud to be a heretic. By the way, the word 'heretic' means one who chooses to think differently. We need more heretics in the world---more people who are prepared to think differently. Bring it on.

True, there have been some evil and truly dangerous cults along the way. I think of Jim Jones, his so-called Peoples Temple, and the Jonestown Massacre [pictured above] … and I think of many others, some just plain wacky, some mere money-making shams, others more sinister in nature and effect, some of which are still active today, one of which I’m too scared to mention by name in this post lest I be sued. Say no more.

The thing is, nearly all of us have been the victim of cults of one sort or another. Now, let’s get down to basics. What is a ‘cult’?  The word cult, from the Latin word cultus, refers to a faith-based community of likeminded people who come together on a regular basis to worship; more specifically, the word refers to the specific form of worship, together with the body of beliefs and related practices, of a particular sect. (Note. The word ‘sect,’ like the word ‘cult,’ is very much a pejorative word, but every religious organization or group is a ‘sect’ in the eyes of the law, even if the word more rightly refers to some subgroup or offshoot of a larger organization or group which has its own different set of rules, doctrines, and principles.)

Now, a cult, in the religious sense, is simply a system of religious beliefs that replaces one’s own beliefs with its own, and gives legitimacy---sometimes blatantly, and sometimes quite subtly---only to its own teachings, such that, if a person cannot or does not conform, they are excluded whether by formal excommunication, censure, or other means. More often than not, a cult gives the impress of finality, if not infallibility, to any one or more of the following---its founder, its current leader(s), and its so-called holy book(s). Get the idea? The Roman Catholic Church is the largest single cult in the world today.

Let’s say you were reared a Baptist, or a Roman Catholic, or an Orthodox Jew … or perhaps a Buddhist of one sort or another ... or maybe a Humanist or an atheist. Well, you were part of a cult, and you were subjected to brainwashing of one sort or another. Yes, the conditioning---the beliefs and values inculcated into you---was nothing less than brainwashing, and it’s rather ironic that the religious groups doing the most brainwashing are almost invariably the ones screaming the loudest against the dangers of brainwashing.


When I was a Baptist, I was taught that only certain people---those Bible-believing Christians who held similar beliefs to those inculcated into me---would go to heaven. There was little or no hope for the vast bulk of humanity, including people such as Roman Catholics and other non-evangelical ‘Christians.’ (The people with whom I worshipped did not consider those so-called Christians to be Christians at all. Roman Catholics, in particular, taught a 'false gospel.' Get the picture?) One of my Baptist ministers---actually the one who married my wife and I  (i.e. was the officiant minister) way back in 1980---would often say in his sermons, ‘God has spoken His final word in Jesus Christ,’ and ‘If Christianity is right, all other religions are wrong.’ (I have attacked the silliness of those sorts of statements elsewhere.) 

The Baptist minister of whom I speak also taught in a Baptist theological college for many years, and was later a president of the Baptist Union of Queensland, so he was highly respected in the denomination to which I once belonged. In sermon after sermon I was taught---yes, brainwashed---by one narrow-minded and bigoted minister after another a very narrow and exclusivist system of Biblical exegesis and conservative evangelical (and at times fundamentalist) doctrine. Indeed, the doctrinal system preached was an unwarranted imposition upon sacred scripture of a rigid ideology---yes, ideology---an artificial construct that was never part of the original teachings of the religion or its founder. 

While I am on the subject of evangelicals and fundamentalists, I like what the San Francisco journalist and columnist Herb Caen said about so-called 'born again Christians.' He said, ‘The trouble with born-again Christians is that they are an even bigger pain the second time around.’ How true! No wonder these sorts of religious organizations turn so many people into atheists. When I think of the inward-looking and for the most part financially very well-off Baptists in my old church---actually, I try not to think of them at all---I am reminded of some words written by the American Episcopalian priest (and de facto cofounder of the wonderful organization Alcoholics Anonymous) Dr Sam Shoemaker [pictured right]. He referred to people such as these as 'comfortable evangelicals, hugging personal salvation to themselves, living off the sweat of underpaid labour, blind to their own guilt for social injustice, and fattening their souls for heaven.' Great stuff! I wish I'd written that.

Back to Alcoholics Anonymous for a moment. Do you know that none of the Baptist ministers I have known---and I have known a lot---had ever stepped into an AA meeting-room? What's more, none of them had the slightest desire to go to one, to see the transformations that can and do take place in the lives of otherwise hopeless and powerless alcoholics. You'd think they'd be interested in spiritual healing. After all, the man they purported to worship as Lord went about the countryside healing and casting out devils. No, they had no interest in the subject at all. Perhaps they were frightened they'd meet a bunch of active full-on drunks. Far from it. Or maybe they still saw alcoholism as being a sin or moral weakness as opposed to a disease. Few knew anything at all about the subject. It's largely the same today, at least among evangelical pastors. (Catholic priests, to their credit, are generally better educated on the matter.) 

I say this: more miracles---and I mean true life-changing miracles---take place in AA [and other 12-step group] meeting-rooms than in churches ... on all days of the week. People wake up to the reality of their true selves, and discard all that is false, and a chronic, progressive and terminal illness is arrested. Now, that is real salvation. One last thing. I've even heard some Baptist pastors, and some from other conservative evangelical denominations as well, attack AA as being a 'cult,' or even 'of the Devil'---because of (quote) 'all that "Higher Power" and "God as you understand Him" stuff ... why, there's no mention of Jesus Christ at all in those Twelve Steps!' Speaking personally, I'm mighty glad there isn't. Get real, the lot of you. Wake up! Listen to what the greatest Baptist thinker of his time, Dr Harry Emerson Fosdick [pictured left], had to say about the life-changing power of AA: ‘I have listened to many learned arguments about God, but for honest-to-goodness experiential evidence of God, His power personally appropriated and His reality indubitably assured, give me a good meeting of AA!’

Now, if you think I’m being too hard on the Baptists I could tell you stories---some firsthand on my part---of some of the other religious organizations mentioned above. The stories would be very similar in key respects. For example, my many years' association with Humanists and atheists led me to conclude that many of them were as dogmatic, intolerant, and militant as the Baptists. Ditto the Catholics and even some Buddhists I've known. Yes, most of us have been brainwashed, if not by religious organizations then by political ones, our families, our educational and social institutions, and so on. We stopped thinking for ourselves, and were taught to think one way only.


Today, I am in the un-brainwashing business---if business be the right word (I make no money out of it). My ‘message’---a horrible word---to all who take the time to listen is a simple one. Life (i.e. Truth, Reality, God) just is. It---whatever ‘it’ may be---is all there is, and all we have and are capable of knowing, and it unfolds unceasingly from one moment to the next, and if you want to ‘know’ and ‘understand’ you must throw away all your beliefs (yes, all of them) and simply look, see, observe, and examine. Put no barriers, and allow none to be erected, between you and your own direct, immediate and unmediated moment-to-moment experience of Life as it unfolds as the Eternal Now. 

Now, you may say, ‘Ellis-Jones, isn’t that---what you’ve just described---some belief of yours?’ I say, ‘No, not at all. I am simply describing and experiencing what is---as it unfolds. I offer no judgment, interpretation, or analysis of what is. I let ‘it’ speak for itself. Such is the nature of Truth. It is not a matter of opinion.’ I have no time for beliefs at all, whether those beleifs be religious, political, or whatever. I oppose all belief-systems. I like what the American author and speaker Vernon Howard [pictured below] said about beliefs. He said, ‘People assume that beliefs can open the highway to happiness, when in fact a man's beliefs keep him on endless detours. The reason beliefs cannot sustain anyone is because life's events do not believe in beliefs.’ You see, there's reality .. and there's beliefs about reality. I choose the former. It is more than enough. While I'm on the subject of beliefs, here's another gem of profound spiritual wisdom from Vernon Howard, a man who always told it like it is: ‘There is hope for whoever does not know what to believe. Human belief is a combination of superstition, gullibility and mental laziness. We need not believe anything; we need to find, to see, to know.’ 


Yes, I am very happy today. I have thrown away all of the beliefs I once held or thought I held. I have no beliefs, no illusions, and no delusions so far as I am aware, and I reject all so-called ‘methods’ and ‘techniques’, and ‘paths’ and ‘ways,’ to Truth. There is no ‘way’ to Truth. Why should there be? A ‘path’ or ‘way’ implies a distance, a separation, between us and Truth, and that simply isn’t the case. A 'method' or 'technique' is simply a form of brainwashing. You don't need any of them---at least not when it comes to experiencing and knowing and understanding Life, which, at the end of the day, is all that truly matters. No person---god, demi-god, messiah, saint, ‘holy one,’ guru, master ('ascended' [?] or otherwise), or teacher---is Truth or is the ‘way’ to Truth … despite what you have read or been taught by others in positions of so-called authority. Now, please don’t think I am a nihilist---far from it. I hold and affirm certain convictions and values, but all of them derive directly and objectively from Life itself, and from an ongoing experience of Life. The convictions and values I affirm as true are ‘things’ I have come to know and understand. They are not articles of faith or belief. Not at all.

I want you to think about just how much brainwashing you have been exposed to in your lifetime. I’m sure it’s much more extensive than you might have first thought to be the case.

Happy un-brainwashing, each and every one of you!



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4 comments:

  1. Thanks, Eric. I greatly appreciate your comment, as I have received the most nasty and hateful and insulting comments from Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists on another site which re-publishes my blog posts. It's funny isn't, these people talk about a God who is love---even though he is supposed to 'hate fags'---yet call into question the sanity and mental well being of people who write what I've written. They are very desperate and dangerous people. Anyway, thanks for your one-word comment which says so much. Bless you. Ian.

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  2. I RELATE COMPLETELY WITH YOUR STATEMENT: "Actually, these preachers did me a very great service. They protested so much, and so loudly, against these so-called cults that they aroused an interest and a curiosity in me to learn more about them. I even joined a couple of them along the way---and it widened my mind considerably ... something I very much needed."

    For me, same experience, same response, same finding. I have been very conscious of and muse often how that exploring all the options for seeking truth, especially those that are fundamentally railed against, is a sure way of finding Truth to expand one's mind, soul and spirit. My life experience has improved greatly, having allowed myself to wander afar from the pseudo-security conceptual temples of limitations constructed out of man-made belief systems.

    Your observations here incentivize persons who are filled and weary with B.S. (belief systems) to "take the risk" and find inner peace for themselves. Thank you again for your boldness to speak your Truth, Dr. Ian.

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    1. Bless you, dear friend. As long as there is life and breath in me I will continue to rail against the silliness of so much of conventional religion, on the folly of all belief systems, and on the false fears and guilt conventional religion both generates and thrives upon. I am glad that you had a similar experience to mine. Paul Tillich wrote a wonderful little book entitled The Courage to Be. I'm sure you've heard of it and maybe read it. I like that title as well as the radical theology contained in that book. Life takes guts at the best of times. True guts is when we say, 'The emperor has no clothes on,' and begin seeing things as they really are, not through belief systems that not only filter but distort reality and our moment-to-moment perception of it. May the One who is all Power, Presence, Light, and Truth continue to bless you. Ian.

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